Well, last week we examined Stephen’s response to a leading question put to him by the high priest, after he had been physically dragged before the same Jewish counsel that condemned Jesus to death. In similar fashion, they wanted Stephen to account for some trumped up charges, and the question put to him was, Are these things so? (Acts 7:1). Stephen didn’t play their game. Instead, he told them the story of Israel, and he started from the very beginning, with Abraham. Only, in his version, he didn’t pull any punches. What I’m saying is that he presented their history by focusing upon what they tried so desperately to hide. You see, from their very beginning, Israel had initially rejected and had schemed to do away with whoever God had sent to deliver them, culminating in their rejection and condemnation of Jesus, their long-awaited deliverer.
I can tell you from personal experience that quite a few seeming contradictions began to fall away when I started viewing Hebrews as written to the Hebrews according to their own accepted history. Having said that, let me say right up front to our listeners: I realize you may have a huge problem with the prospect that the Bible was not written directly to you. Oh yeah, I’m very familiar with reading the Bible as if it was God’s love letter to me. You know, when I first had it put to me that way, it gave me a sense that maybe God really did want to talk to me, and even more so, that he really might love me. Please don’t think for a moment that I want to remove that sense of intimacy between yourself and God. Yes, I know that viewing the Bible in context will de-romanticize — that is, take the magic out of many of your favorite verses, but I’m also suggesting that you may discover a whole new level of intimacy with God that expands way beyond a few select Bible verses. And no, I’m not suggesting that the secrets of God are revealed by learning the proper method of Biblical interpretation, as that can be just as much a trap as any other approach. What I am proposing is that real intimacy with God is not constrained or defined by our attempts to gain it or make it real by how we view the Bible.
Anyhow, I want to zero in on how viewing Hebrews as an outsider-looking-in might present a better picture of the true intimacy of God. You see, those who heard this letter already knew the basic truth of their past, as well as the ineffectiveness of the Law on past generations. In saying this, I refer to their history all the way up to and including Israel’s on-going rejection of Jesus, who was sent as their promised deliverer. In view of last week’s audio, I want you to notice a significant difference between the letter written to the Hebrews and that seen in Stephen’s presentation. You see, while Stephen spoke to a group of Hebrews who had rejected the message of Christ, the writer of this letter addressed those among the Hebrews who had come out of their people’s former rejection. In other words, Stephen spoke to those who made no bones about where they stood in their rejection of Jesus as the promised Messiah, while the writer of Hebrews wrote to those had come out from among the people, having accepted the rejected and crucified Jesus as the promised Messiah of Israel — and in doing so, they were rejected by Israel as a whole. Adam, are you also catching that distinction?
In view of such drastic life-altering conversion stories, you and I might assume that if anyone was ever a Christian these people surely were. For that was the cut-and-dried viewpoint I adopted as I desperately attempted to keep all my doctrinal ducks in a row. Now rather than project our own assumptions or conclusions, let’s consider how the writer perceived those to whom he wrote. But did he actually give an indication of who his audience was? I say that he did, but I suspect we mostly overlook this clearly defined picture because he presented it in the deeply embedded imagery of their own history. I’m telling you, once I began recognizing this it changed the way I viewed everything in the letter of Hebrews.
Hebrews 3:7-19 Having come out of Egypt does not mean they had entered into God’s rest.
This has nothing to do with a condition, a deed, a special blessing, a formula, a time-frame, or some kind of detailed progression that must be met in order to be saved
Merely coming out of Egypt does not equate with being brought into fellowship with God through Christ
Merely coming out of Egypt is like: Matthew 12:43-45 (empty house swept clean) and 2 Peter 2:17-22 (escaping the corruption of the world through the knowledge Jesus)
Merely coming out of Egypt equates to things like: 1) rejecting one’s past failed life, 2) leaving old habits behind, 3) calling it quits and starting over, 4) forsaking the thinking, the errors, the excessiveness, the prejudice, the rigidness, the injustice, or the abuses and horrors of one’s society, one’s government, one’s ancestors, or one’s religion.
How might this be relatable in today’s world?
As a people (a society, a nation) Israel had been freed from their former bondage as slaves in Egypt, but they had not been freed into the promised rest of God — which, by the way, has nothing to do with a so-called “deeper Christian life” (A viewpoint that only clouds the truth of the union in which we live, as well as establishes bogus levels among the saints. It also plays into the overall confusion of understanding Hebrews). They were like the empty house that had been swept clean. Had we walked among them, we would most likely conclude that they were followers of Moses, believers in the promise of God — and yet their unbelief was revealed at the entrance to the land of promise. As a whole, they had been set from their past but were in heart, unbelievers.
A good look at the passage reveals that the writer of Hebrews portrays his audience — as a whole — as if they were standing in the same place as did their ancestors. Hebrews 3:12 — “Take care, brethren (Hebrews), that there not be in any one of you and evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.”
So Adam, I’ll bet you’ve got some comments to make regarding this verse, don’t you?
How many of us were taught that THIS was addressed to the chosen of God? What I mean is, we were taught to use introspection to figure out how WE [His children] might work out something to keep US from falling away from the living God. We would stare at ourselves all the while knowing that God is the one who reads the heart. How frustrating it is to be led into thinking that we ourselves are the ones this refers to. So how Do you think The Writer was framing this question then?
* They were being asked to examine their own selves to see if they could muster up some belief.
*They were being asked to to watch out for their brothers so that THEY wouldn’t let them fall away.
*They needed to pray to ask God to help them not fall away and to grow strong for Jesus.
How many of them had actually entered into God’s rest?
How many were still standing around debating the validity of Christ’s once and for all sacrifice?
How many of them had merely escaped the horrors of their people’s rejection and murder of the one God may have sent to deliver them?
How many of them — despite all appearance that they had fully adopted the Messiah — had unbelieving, evil hearts that fall away from the living God?
In other words, how many of them were caught between their former bondage and their promised deliverance?
Consider the state of the group of believing Jews in Jerusalem at the time of Paul’s arrival, for these are virtually the same who were addressed in the Hebrews letter. Acts 21:17-22 And don’t forget that despite Paul’s attempts to set the record straight, by telling the story of God’s call upon him, as a group they would have torn him to shreds had it not been for the Roman soldiers who pulled him away from the mob.
After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.” Acts 21:17-22 NASB
Adam, I don’t know about you, but when I read the above description of the thousands among the Jews in Jerusalem who believed, I don’t take a lot of comfort in the phrase “and they are all zealous for the Law.” Now, the apostles gave themselves over to the study of the Scriptures — which included the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets — but the record states that they came out preaching Christ as a result.
Then steer the discussion in the direction of the seeming contradictions, those back and forth statements that jump between assurance and fear.
Between those harsh proclamations of condemnation and judgment — very much like we find in Stephen’s message — the writer of Hebrews brings an alternative into focus. What I’m saying is that Hebrews contains a mixture of two things:
The undercurrent of fear because of judgment
The overlay of mercy and grace through the fulfillment
All throughout the letter, he keeps calling/appealing on another level than witnessed in Stephen’s judgment of unbelief and uncircumcised hearts, for he calls them to enter the rest that their father’s forsook. To those who had already entered that rest, the appeal to not be afraid but to stand apart come through loud and clear.
Hebrews 4:1-3 if any of you may seem to have come short of it (because of unbelief)
Hebrews 4:16 Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace!
Hebrews 6:1-3 Leave the elementary teaching about the Christ behind
Hebrews 6:9 But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you
Hebrews 6:19-20 hope as an anchor of the soul
Hebrews 8:1-6 Jesus as our high priest, a more excellent ministry
Hebrews 10:19-26 Since we have confidence
Hebrews 10:39 But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul
Hebrews 12:1-2 Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses
Hebrews 12:14-29 The two mountains: judgment versus the one who took all judgment
Hebrews 13:13 Go outside the camp
Possible thoughts to add on.
The letter compares the following with a view that the one is better or superior than the other.
Jesus versus the angels. Why the angels? Because the Law was given through angels, the prophets of old received God’s messages through messengers he sent to them.
The word spoken through the Son versus the word spoken through angels. Once again, this points specifically to the Law. Don’t let this continued reference to the Law slide for a moment as you consider any specific verses in Hebrews.
Jesus versus Moses.
The heavenly priesthood of Melchizedek versus the earthly priesthood of Israel (first through Aaron, then Levi)
The new covenant versus the old covenant (the first made obsolete by that which surpassed it)
The heavenly tabernacle versus the earthly tabernacle.
The eternal blood of Jesus versus the blood of bulls and goats.
The one and for all sacrifice of Jesus versus the continual sacrifices of the priests.
The life of faith under the new covenant versus the faith of those under the old.